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This Week’s Guest Blogger is Felicity O’Rourke a Garden Designer who runs her own business

An introduction

With an BSc Honours Degree in Biochemistry at Bristol University, I joined Accenture as a Management Consultant. I went on to be awarded sponsorship by Aer Lingus to train as a Commercial Airline Pilot. I subsequently flew Boeing 737s and Airbus A320s with easyJet for many years before taking a break to have my 3 children. Whilst studying my diploma at KLC School of Design last year, I was awarded a Bronze Medal at the Moscow Flower Show for my garden ‘The Eye of Providence’. I have now completed my Diploma in Garden Design with Distinction and the coveted awards of ‘KLC Top Student 2020’ and ‘Debbie Roberts Award for Vision and Excellence’. I am now on setting up my own design practice in Wimbledon, London.

Therapeutic Gardens

Our appreciation of life and the living world has been hardwired into our own genetic makeup, giving us an innate emotional and beneficial response to nature, known as Biophilia. Whilst all gardens bring a beneficial improvement in well-being through engaging our senses, gardens for the disabled should provide a focus on how to further improve this experience on a therapeutic level.

The Attention Restoration Theory defines how a therapeutic garden can specifically improve the quality of the experience. There are essentially four main elements:

Being Away: Giving people diversionary, time away from their usual everyday life.
Fascination: This is passive interaction, entered into almost involuntarily, catching and holding one’s attention.
Extent: Providing enough opportunities to capture our fascination, regardless of the number of times the garden is visited.
Compatibility: Enabling the people to view, enter and perhaps work within the garden with ease.

Here are some practical ideas for introducing these elements within your garden:

To instil a sense of ‘Being Away’ we can use different planting palettes from different regions of the world. For example, lush architectural planting could instil a sense of being somewhere tropical, in the same way that a Mediterranean feeling can be instilled in a dry, gravel garden by using plants with aromatic foliage in silvery tones.

‘Fascination’ can be achieved by stimulating all of our senses. For example, it isn’t just the mesmerising quality of watching water, listening to its calming sound, and the feeling of it running through your hands, but it is its attraction to wildlife that enables such a broad level of fascination for us too. Ponds can be raised within a retaining wall for example, to allow those in wheelchairs to get a better view and water features can placed with reach of hands and feet to provide another element to the experience of water.

It is a not only the seasonal changes which will provide the ‘Extent’ to which our fascination is captured over the course of a year, but on a daily basis it is wildlife that offers this in detail. Using plants for pollinators can attract not only insects, but in turn, the birds that feed on them. Using log piles is a great way to provide refuge for over-wintering pollinators as well as considering planting shrubs and trees that provide berries in winter.

Fundamentally, above all, enabling easy access to the garden setting throughout the year is key to any restorative garden. This can be as straight-forward as allowing smooth, step-free access to the site, as well as perhaps having a shelter/conservatory/garden room which allows all weather access to the garden. Facilitating the growing of edibles by building raised beds or using a pergola as a frame for growing, also allows access to plants for those who struggle to reach the ground.

For further ideas and advice, do not hesitate to get in contact to see how I can help you unleash the potential of your garden plot.


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